The occasional distant echo of a door slamming shut followed by footsteps running down the corridor past his apartment had biological sciences sophomore Andrew Frauenpreis in wonder.
“At first it really threw me off when I would hear running [down the hall] early in the morning. Like what college kids are just running around the halls at 8 in the morning?” Frauenpreis said.
It did not take long for Frauenpreis and his roommates to discover their next-door neighbors were the youngest residents living in Poly Canyon Village (PCV). The “college kids” he heard running down the hall were Joaquin, age 4, and Mateo, age 8.
Assistant professor in the School of Education Oscar Navarro, his wife, Blanca, and their sons Joaquin and Mateo, are the first family to live in PCV. Navarro is among three faculty to be a part of a University Housing initiative known as Faculty in Residence.
For some it may be hard to imagine professors and students living in the same residential community. Statistics sophomore Josiah Lashley, Frauenpreis’ roommate, admits he thought a professor living next door was “kind of weird.”
“I thought it was interesting, but when I met [Navarro] I thought he was really chill. I didn’t even worry about it anymore,” Lashley said.
The thought of living with students may even seem strange for professors. Initially, Navarro was apprehensive about applying.
“I talked [about the position] over with my partner and she was excited about the possibility,” Navarro said. “One of our sons is at the preschool here [at Cal Poly] and we had talked about both of our kids feeling like Cal Poly students because the youngest one already did.”
The three faculty, two of whom have families, are the first to take part in the Faculty in Residence pilot program. Biological sciences professor Nishanta “Nishi” Rajakaruna lives in yakʔitʸutʸu. Physics lecturer Nathan Heston lives in the Cerro Vista Apartments with his family that includes his 1-year-old daughter.
Heston was also faculty advisor for Engineering without Borders. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Florida and has engaged with students on solar energy projects and sustainable technology research. Rajakaruna earned his Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia and is passionate about botany.
Navarro went to Rio Hondo Community College and transferred to University of California, Los Angeles where he earned his Ph.D. in Education. Because he was a transfer student, the Faculty in Residence program has allowed Navarro to experience living on-campus for the first time.
“It’s cool! My neighbors are great and we talk,” Navarro said. “I just ran into the person that lives underneath us and I had to apologize because I know my kids will be jumping around. I was like, ‘Yo, if there is anything you need, just let me know.”
Navarro and his family even experienced what most students have while living on-campus: setting the fire alarm off, as well as getting locked out.
“One time we were cooking bacon and the fire alarm went off. My partner and I were like, ‘Damn it wasn’t even the students, it was us,’” Navarro said.
The benefits of the Faculty in Residence position include free housing and a dining plan. Residential faculty receive an apartment inside the residence hall they are assigned to. According to the Cal Poly Faculty in Residence position description, residential faculty are permitted a pet in their apartment.
“I think there is more of an upside than anything else, and [the program is] great, very convenient,” Navarro said. “I think that the downside is the little privacy that you would normally have and the kids like to run around, so also not having that open space right when you walk out.”
Residential faculty serve as advisers to residents, build community through programming and events and connect students with more faculty by inviting them into the residential communities. According to the position description, the Faculty in Residence position supports the academic mission of Cal Poly and the goals and objectives of the Division of Student Affairs through the Residential Life and Education department by creating a holistic living-learning environment outside the classroom.
“They have been able to make unique connections with students that we haven’t,” Associate Director of Residence Education Tina Muller said. “And they really help our staff make connections between students and faculty. We doubled our faculty programs so far fall quarter [which is] beyond what was done the whole year last year.”
Residential faculty also receive funds to cover costs for the events they plan for residents. At the beginning of the academic year, Navarro had a meet-and-greet event where students were invited to enjoy pizza while getting to know him.
“There was a student there that was asking a lot of questions about education and career advice and that student ended up being my neighbor,” Navarro said. “It’s nice to be able to step out of my apartment and know I have those intimate connections with students who are also my neighbors.”
According to Navarro’s next-door neighbors, they do not have any noise complaints so far. But, if students feel like their neighbor, faculty or resident, is being loud, Muller advises them not to be afraid to talk to them.
“Just as if your neighbor was being really loud, and your Faculty in Residence is being loud, knock on that door and have that conversation,” Muller said. “I always laugh because [students] think they shouldn’t do that. But, why not?”
Navarro said the experience has been great thus far.
“It’s really been eye-opening to be a professor and see how students’ extracurricular time is setup because I think there is a perception that all students do is party and all these wild things,” Navarro said. “It’s kind of like a good mythbuster for faculty to see what students are doing because folks here are committed to their studies.”
In the position, Navarro said he hopes to be a resource for first-generation college and transfer students.
“Before starting the position, I was excited about being able to interact with undergraduate students because all the students I work with are like post-baccalaureate and I wanted to have more interactions with undergraduate students,” Navarro said.
Currently, the pilot program is for one year. Once a month, meetings are held to check in on the pilot programs’ successes and challenges. After further evaluation, University Housing would like the Faculty in Residence program to be a three-year commitment in the future, according to Muller.
Most of the faculty who applied for the Faculty in Residence position were from the College of Science and Mathematics. Although the residential faculty are in their respective colleges, some teach general education (GE) classes, allowing them connections with students in other colleges. According to Muller, faculty who teach GE courses will help with placement in residential communities when recruiting for faculty in the future.
“Faculty in Residence is a great way to meet students outside your classroom,” Navarro said. “It’s nice to meet students who are not necessarily my students, but we are all connected at Cal Poly. It allows for a different type of interaction and it’s what I’ve enjoyed most.”
As for Joaquin and Mateo, they are also enjoying campus life. The chances of seeing the young boys are when they are riding their bikes, walking to preschool with their parents or enjoying the PCV pool, under parental supervision of course.
“They do [feel like Cal Poly students.] It’s corny, but it’s cool. They enjoy it,” Navarro said.